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Middle seeks to license, inspect short-term rentals

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Middle Township Hall 

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The township recently introduced an ordinance creating a license requirement for short-term rentals, aimed at units booked through online services such as Vrbo and Airbnb.

The township is the latest community to try to address the booming market, and to limit potential disruptions in residential neighborhoods unused to rapid turnovers of residents or overcrowded parking.

The ordinance, set for a public hearing and final vote at 6 p.m. July 18 at Township Hall, sets a fee of $250 per unit and creates a 3% tax that will go to the municipality. It also requires that a property manager or other responsible party be accessible 24 hours a day and says properties cannot be rented to those under 21.

Mayor Tim Donohue said he would have liked to keep government out of this but that it becomes a public safety issue, with a need for regular inspections to make sure the units are safe, including having smoke detectors and sufficient exits. That will mean recovering the costs to the township, he said.

“If we’re going to regulate, inspect it and have the fire bureau go, there has to be mechanisms for a license and a fee that’s justified,” Donohue said during a recent committee meeting at which all three committee members supported the move.

The issue has come up in multiple communities, as more visitors turn to online services to rent a place to stay while on vacation, sidestepping real estate agents and other more traditional services. Recently, some neighbors have asked Upper Township to take action, citing a specific rental property on their street, but township Administrator Gary DeMarzo argued that existing ordinances were enough to control problem properties.

The main concern cited at the meeting in Middle Township was parking, with a provision in the ordinance limiting parking on the street to one vehicle per rental unit.

“You walk a line. You want the people that own property to have the ability to make some income, but you also have the people who live around them and they want to be able to park on their street,” said Donohue. “How do we create some accountability in that and still allow people to make money and still allow that industry to thrive?”

Township Business Administrator Kim Osmundsen said the township looked at what other communities did when setting the license costs, saying the township’s charge was about in the middle.

Resident Dan Lockwood, a former township mayor, had questions about the ordinance. He said he and his wife have investment properties, including long-term rentals and commercial properties, and have started to offer one property through an online service.

Lockwood said he does not mind paying taxes or a license fee, but said it should apply to all rental units.

“I’m particularly interested in the hyper-focus, why the targeting of short-term rentals versus a broader business license or rental registration,” he said.

The ordinance applies to rental agreements of less than 90 days, created through a third-party system such as Airbnb or Vrbo. Lockwood compared those businesses to ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft, in that the renters also face a review, not just the owners.

“If you have a bad tenant, they get banned,” Lockwood said.

Donohue said the township worked with Airbnb when preparing the ordinance.

“They were very cooperative,” he said. “They understand the premise. They want to be welcome in your town.”

Osmundsen said the township has had complaints from hotels and motels, arguing it is unfair that short-term rentals arranged online avoid licenses and taxes, while there have already been concerns raised about the new ordinance.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of headaches,” she said.

Contact Bill Barlow:

609-272-7290

bbarlow@pressofac.com

Twitter @jerseynews_bill

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